Accidents Still Happen; They Still Cost a Lot

With a $34-billion price tag and a nasty body count, you'd think we could do better.

The following bit of news from IChemE showed up in my mailbox yesterday. According to the U.K. insurance firm Marsh, the combined financial loss from the 100 largest accidents in the hydrocarbon industry has been estimated at over US$34 billion.

Yup. That's $34 billion, with a b.

And one of the most disturbing pieces of news in the report is this: According to the report, seven of the 100 largest property damage losses have occurred since 2012. We don't seem to be getting much better at this process safety thing.

A PDF of the entire report is available here.  It's worth the read.

Andrew George, Chairman of Marsh's Global Energy Practice, commented “The global energy sector is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its approach to risk management, most notably in the deployment of new technologies and in emerging markets. However, none of the losses detailed in Marsh's report should be considered 'black swan' events. These accidents generally occurred because of the failure of a number of inter-linked control barriers within process and safety management systems.

As a footnote, this news also showed up yesterday. The latest issue of NFPA Journal, the official magazine for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), investigates the aftermath of the immense explosion that occurred at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, on April 17, 2013 in the article In West's Wake.

The story is the following: "Part of the solution, is the adoption of a statewide fire code. Texas is just one of two states — Missouri is the other — without a statewide fire code, and Connealy supports the idea of conducting inspections in accordance with NFPA 1, which references NFPA 400. However, the Texas Legislature has to approve this measure before Connealy can enforce compliance. A likelier action in the short term, he says, is more stringent regulations for chemical facilities. In preparation for the state's 2015 legislative session — Texas holds sessions every other year — and in response to the West incident, Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has tasked the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety with investigating deficiencies in safety, risk management, and disaster planning at chemical facilities. The committee will also determine if changes should be made to existing laws or rules on inspection, investigation, or enforcement."

So it's not just the process industries that are the problem. But as anyone old enough to vote should know, looking to politicians for a solution to this kind of problem is like waiting for Godot. He's not going to show up.